The first order of business is teaching proper use of the hips, and the way to do that is with the unweighted, or bodyweight, squat. The foundation of all safe, effective, powerful human movement is being able to control the shape of the torso, and flex and extend the hips, thereby getting your strength and power from your legs instead of from the little muscles in your back. This is a skill that almost everybody lacks, and it’s useless to build strong shoulders if you don’t know how to control your core and use your hips. So without a decent squat, everything else is building a building without a foundation.
What’s the first thing you train people on?
What if I can’t squat because of knee problems or some other problem?
Lots of people can’t squat properly. Generally, the knee and hip problems people have are caused by the fact that they didn’t know how to squat right. So by changing the range of motion or decreasing the load, providing whatever the advantage is that they need to begin to squat properly, we start to strengthen the proper muscles and help the client start to obtain the proper range of motion and almost without exception, this fixes the knee and hip problems. Sometimes we talk instead about sitting down and standing up. Everybody has been able to sit in a chair. So we stack mats under them to limit the range of motion to that of sitting in a chair, or even less, so that we can start building the squat. It’s such a fundamental movement that we absolutely have to address it. We have to get a decent movement pattern with the squat.
I play sports. Why shouldn’t I just practice my sport and skip these extra workouts?
Our primary goal is not training people in a specialized way for a sport. What we do is help you build a solid foundation of athleticism, no matter where you start or where your fitness level is. You’re going to do better at your sport once you’ve learned how to move like an athlete, using your hips and legs, the strongest parts of your body. You can get more value out of sport-specific training with the foundation of work capacity, strength, and flexibility that we train.
A sport coach might not address basic problems like tight hamstrings. CrossFit workouts reveal weaknesses you might not have found another way, and address them. We’re not training muscles and strength for their own sake. What we’re doing is training movement—movement that lets people enjoy whatever it is they’re doing, whether it’s high level sports, gardening, or cleaning out the garage. That kind of work is all about lifting, twisting, carrying, pushing, stacking, the full range of human movement. We train people to move their bodies effectively, powerfully, athletically, pain-free. And movement is fun.
Your workouts contain push-ups and pull-ups. I can’t do a single one of either. How can I work out with you?
Lots of people can’t do a push-up or a pull-up. We decrease the load, change the angle, provide some supported analogue of a pull-up, so that even the most deconditioned person, or elderly people, or children, who start off not being able to do a pull-up eventually can do a pull-up. It’s about progression and starting with what the client can do, and working in reasonable steps toward what the goal is. It doesn’t really matter how long it takes. It just matters that steady increments of progress are made.
What are some of the modifications you use most often to help people do the exercises?
Boxes to support squatting, or holding onto something for stability in the squat; really anything that keeps a movement within a safe range of motion for the individual. Modifications help people feel comfortable and capable of doing partials, such as a partial squat. With any kind of weighted exercise, a lighter load is a good modification. If it’s a bodyweight drill, you can use any modification to support part of their weight—like doing push-ups with their hands on a bench or a raised surface. Or using the rubberbands for assisted pull-ups.
Basically there are two kinds of modifications: ones that keep the range of motion within the person’s safe range, and ones that lighten the load to allow a full range of motion.
Can you help me lose weight?
A lot of people think they can get to their weight-loss goals just by working out. We make clear that working out provides a foundation for weight loss and for healthy bodies, but weight loss is primarily about eating right. We direct clients to resources that can help them eat right.
Do beginners get extremely sore? If so, how long before that goes away?
Soreness is not always an indication of how hard you worked out. Chances are, after your first workout, you’ll be sore for a few days. For soreness we recommend stretches, contrast showers, more movement. We try to fit in some stretches at the end of the workouts and we suggest you stretch before you go to sleep. Over time, soreness can decrease, but at the same time your ability increases, so you can always get sore because you’re working harder.
On the other hand, you don’t get sore from things that used to wear you out. For instance we’ve had people say, “I cleaned out my whole garage this weekend, and I wasn’t sore at all,” or “I worked all day in the garden, and my back doesn’t hurt.”
What are some of your member’s specific goals?
We have members who are working on losing fat; preparing for their sport season; heavier O-lifts; lowering cholesterol and blood pressure; regaining lost movements and strength; and improving specific sports skills.
What are the advatnages I will notice in CrossFit-style workouts when I start doing them?
First comes a greater capacity for work, and cardiovascular gains. Then comes strength—the ability to move more weight. A byproduct of those things is putting on more muscle.
How long does it take to get results?
Between two weeks to a month you will notice changes. Clients who aren’t in good shape or active start slower, but they see changes in their work capacity even from one workout to the next. Everybody finds in their first workout that they have huge gains to make. Even people who are athletes—they push hard and are thrashed at the end.
I’m worried about overtraining injuries from the exercises you use, which are new to me. How do you prevent injury?
Over-use injuries are unlikely because we vary the exercises so much between workouts and even within a workout. We’ll combine a push with a pull, an extension with a flexion.
Proper range of motion reduces the chance of other injuries. For example, in weight-supporting exercises like the push-press, thrusters, and even push-ups, if you lock out the arms at full extension like you’re supposed to, you are supporting the weight properly.
The coaches are there to make sure you use good form. When you can do a full range of motion, then you need to be doing a full range of motion. When you can’t, we use modifications to support the movement and slowly increase the range without putting strain on other joints. Joint mobility drills, done unweighted, can relieve tension on tight muscles and connective tissues.
What will I be asked to do during my first workout?
First, the trainer will ask you about your exercise background, if you have any issues, medical problems, or pain that they should know about. We’ll ask you to think about some specific goals—what you want to accomplish, more than just getting in shape, since that is different to different people. The trainer will evaluate some of your basic movements, such as the squat and some others, and determine what your limitations might be and where you’re at with flexibility.
Then the trainer will warm you up, teach you some new exercises, and put you through a short workout. For example you’ll probably start learning to row, kettlebell swings or deadlifts, and air squats. Some people have been on a rowing machine before and some haven’t. Most people have not used kettlebells before, but it’s fun learning what those are and how to use them. Even air squats, most people have not done them before because they haven’t had a reason to, but we lose a lot of hip function that way, so squats are basic but really important.
The trainer will challenge you but he (or she) won’t push you over the edge, and will watch to make sure your form is good and the movements are safe for you. Exercises are modified if they need to be so that you can do them.
What would you say to people who are nervous about a strenuous workout or about being coached?
If you’re not used to a strenuous workout, that’s perfectly fine. The trainers have a way of pushing you appropriately and backing off. Some people aren’t used to having a lot of stress on their body, and that’s okay. This is the kind of training that will let you progress in strength and work capacity. As for the trainers, their job is to make sure you get the training you need to progress. If you do the hard work of working out, you’ll be surprised how fast you progress.
What should I expect when I arrive at the gym for my first time?
Expect to see a gym that’s not typical, in a really fun way. You’ll see some different equipment, such as pull-up bars, gymnastic rings, climbing rope, and Olympic-style weightlifting equipment. The great thing is you will be trained and coached on all these things. And you’ll see people having fun and working hard!